Soft Competition: Finland, Sweden and the Northern Dimension of the European Union

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In the context of European integration, Sweden and Finland are frequently seen as natural allies. Based on a number of perceived similarities, their shared Nordic heritage, established historical ties and their concurrent accession to the European Union (EU), they are rarely seen as competitors or proponents of diverging points of view. Their alignment within the EU, over sub-regional issues surrounding Northern Europe in particular, is often rather taken as a given. By focusing on the specific conduct of Sweden and Finland as regional stakeholders in the Baltic Sea Region (BSR) and the way they have played this role within the EU, this article seeks to challenge these common assumptions. It shows that Sweden and Finland do not converge in their positions, also in matters concerning the EU's Northern Dimension – that is, a policy that distinctly furthers regional core issues whose promotion within the EU could be in both states' interest. Instead of pooling forces to attain greater leverage within the EU, Sweden and Finland rather compete with each other in this regard. Using the example of the Finnish Northern Dimension initiative, this article shows how Sweden and Finland have promoted sub-regional matters through different political and organizational channels, keeping bilateral cooperation to a minimum and leaving potential avenues of pooled action at the EU level aside. The article thus concludes that the concept of a Swedish-Finnish tandem within the EU needs to be looked at more critically when it comes to explaining or predicting their conduct as Member States.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)365-390
JournalScandinavian Political Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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